The six century-old railroad houses that would be torn down to make room for a condominium project a block and a half east of the Hip Strip are contributing structures to the University Area Historic District.
The city’s Public Works Committee heard a presentation last week from developers of the project on South Fourth Street East and the alley extension of Ronald Avenue. Jeff Smith, project engineer from WGM Group, said plans are to deconstruct the houses and replace them with 40 to 48 condos. The proposal also calls for an underground parking lot with 75 spaces above Fourth Street, which dips east down a hill in front of the property and across a Missoula Irrigation Ditch bridge.
Smith said the intent is to create a residential district “that fits within the character of the University District.”
The historic homes to be removed include a brick 2½-story duplex and three one-story apartments that date back to roughly 1908, when the Milwaukee Railroad was being constructed along the nearby south bank of the Clark Fork River. Two other houses on the east end of the lot have Ronald Avenue addresses. They're listed circa 1910 on the nomination of the National Register of Historic Places, which was approved in 2000.
The buildings aren’t protected by the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 because they aren’t individually listed, according to Emy Scherrer, Missoula’s historic preservation officer.
Scherrer said she has met twice with developer/owner Cole Bergquist about mitigation efforts that would pay tribute to the buildings’ significance to Missoula, suggesting incorporating the old houses into the new development or moving them rather than tearing them down.
“There’s definitely a lot that’s going to be removed. It’s a pretty significant removal from the contributing houses in the University Area Historic District,” she said.
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Bergquist on Friday said one of his first calls after acquiring the property was to Scherrer, and he looks forward to collaborating with her office. The team he's created of contractors, designers, architects and engineers “appreciates the historic significance of this site and these structures,” he said.
The intent is to deconstruct and repurpose the stone, brick and other elements of the buildings, and to place interpretive signs along a pathway through the site that connects the University Area with riverfront trails.
“We really feel we’re creating something Missoula can be proud of and that pays respect to its historic character,” Bergquist said.
According to a 1998 historical and architectural inventory prepared by the Missoula Office of Planning and Grants, the original owner of the Fourth Street properties was Oscar Sedman, who was listed in Polk city directories as being involved in real estate. In 1907 Sedman, son of an early territorial legislator, married Harriet Rankin, a younger sister of future Congresswoman Jeannette Rankin. The second owner, Walter Beck, was a pioneer aviator in Missoula.
Public hearings on right-of-way vacation and rezoning applications are set for Dec. 3 in front of the Missoula Planning Board and Dec. 16 with the City Council.
“I’m hoping that City Council, when reviewing the rezoning requests, will consider the impacts to the historic district and mitigation involved for that,” Scherrer said.